Running the Numbers
The Millennial Question
What is a “millennial”? The term has become saturated in the media, but it simply means you were born between about 1980 and 2000. In other words, one in four Canadians is a millennial.
How do millennials connect to running? In February 2016, Running usa released their survey report about the state of running among this age group in America (no such study has yet to be done in Canada). Consider that physical inactivity costs the Canadian health care system about $5 billion a year. With that in mind, running trends look like all good news.
To highlight some positive social trends, consider that back in 1985 only 10 per cent of marathoners were female. In 2015, the number has nearly quintupled to 47 per cent. For shorter distances, women hold a dominating 57 per cent participation level. When asked why they run, two thirds of active millennials do so in order to improve their fitness levels. It seems this is the first truly health-aware generation. Consider that about 30 per cent of youth smoked in the 1980s, but then dropped to 15 per cent since the 2010s (interestingly, violence rates have plummeted over this time period, too). Event planning is also important among youth, registering on average three months ahead of a race date. It seems millennials are more egalitarian, health-conscious, better at organizing and friendlier than the previous generations.
But there are also some contradictory aspects to this progress. The second-most important consideration for millennials, behind the event’s distance, was cost. Most prefer to spend between an unreasonably low $25–50 on a race (considering many of today’s bigger races are well north of $50), which is at odds with their preoccupation with prestige events. They also show little interest in raising funds for charity-sponsored events, claiming that merely entering the race is a form of charity in-and-of itself.
This frugality makes some sense, as young people today are more budgeted than ever before. Over the last 40 years the median income among the young rose by 15 per cent, but costs for housing, university tuition, and race fees have tripled. With the relatively high price of fitness, the constant opportunity for low-quality food, along with other reasons, have collectively spurred a rise in obesity. In 1985 about 10 per cent of adults were obese, compared with about 25 per cent today. Only about one in five adults aged 25–34 today exercise regularly. We have more leisure time than ever, but it’s not being spent on physical activities. Is money enough of a factor that cheaper exercise opportunities be part of the solution? Or is it a purely social phenomenon?
So we find a paradox faced by millennials: they are better educated and more health conscious than any group before, yet they still spend too many hours being sedentary.
Notably, 66 per cent of millennials who run hear about events from social media, yet they do not like to hear from the event itself. This includes a dislike for Facebook-related race updates (email is preferred) and live socialmedia feeds during the event itself. Many want to participate in well-known events, but shy away from such tools as virtual training partners. There is a separation between the online and real world that even the savviest online person prefers to keep separate.
Another change is that millennials participated more in 5k and half-marathons events than the more traditional 10k and marathons. Obstacle, mud and colour runs remain a smaller fraction of total participation, reinforcing that novelty alone is not enough. Events that draw large numbers and have prestige, like the New York City Marathon, attract this coveted demographic.
Millennials are a very social group, but they face real wealth and health related challenges. It remains to be seen if social media can be used in motivating a genuinely healthy lifestyle. This is a bright group, though, and so my hopes are high.
TOP Selfies are a common sight at most events now